WASHINGTON – With the help of Maryland’s two Democratic senators, the GOP balanced budget amendment was killed Tuesday by a single vote.
Eleven Democrats joined all 55 Senate Republicans to bring the tally to 66-34, just one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution.
“I voted against it because a constitutional amendment jeopardizes our future,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, of Baltimore, said in an interview following the vote.
Mikulski said she would have voted for a balanced budget amendment if Social Security had been removed from the budget and if there was an allowance for construction projects.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes said balancing the budget requires tough tax and spending decisions, not a constitutional amendment that would effectively limit Congress’ ability to respond to economic crises.
“It is unwise to place ourselves in a straight jacket,” the Baltimore Democrat said during debate leading up to the vote.
Sarbanes said “tough decisions” on spending have already reduced the deficit by two-thirds.
“We have brought the deficit down consecutively for four years now, from $290 billion in 1992 to $107 billion this past fiscal year,” he said.
This is the fifth time since 1986 that the Senate killed a balanced budget amendment.
To enact the constitutional amendment, it would have needed a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress, and ratification by 38 states within seven years.
The bill, supported by both of Virginia’s senators and opposed by the White House, would have taken effect in 2002, the same year the Clinton administration says it can balance the budget without amending the Constitution.
The Senate bill would have prohibited deficit spending, except during war or unless a three-fifths majority in Congress allowed “a specific excess of outlays over receipts.”
Sarbanes and Mikulski supported a series of unsuccessful attempts last week to change the bill and make it more palatable to Democrats.
The amendments would have:
* Removed Social Security from budget calculations. The amendment, introduced by Harry Reid, D-Nev., would have taken Social Security off budget and allowed excess Social Security spending beginning in 2019 when the surplus is expected to run into the red. It failed 55-44.
* Taken capital projects off budget. Offered by Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., the amendment would have allowed deficit spending for key infrastructure projects and in times of recession. When the amendment failed 63-37, Torricelli, announced his opposition to the broader bill, sealing its fate.
Other unsuccessful amendments offered last week would have made it easier for Congress to pass spending waivers during tough times.
Both Maryland senators have consistently voted against a balanced budget amendment since the concept of using the Constitution to force fiscal discipline was first introduced in the 1980s.
Senate votes were tallied in 1986, 1994, 1995, 1996 and again on Tuesday. A 1982 vote for an amendment passed in the Senate, but failed in the House.